Standing Out

No, I don’t mean you or me, in the midst of a room or a gathering, being the center of attention.  I am taking about the quiet moments that we all spend by ourselves, thinking about the world going on around us.  Sometimes, I delay the introspection by watching a video on youtube.  Or catching another movie or show on Netflix or Amazon Prime.  And then another.  And then another.  As if delay leads to forgetting, to putting aside for another day.  Do we think so little of ourselves that we don’t want to spend the time understanding our thoughts, not listening to what our hearts and minds, in the silence of the moment, is trying to tell us?

A time out.  A time for contemplation, perhaps even a prayer.  Purposeful and deliberative pause and reflection.  Do we always want to live a life reacting to everyday events with nary a though to what we are doing?  Do we want to live a life planned out for us, by us?  Or do we want to look at ourselves, maybe even at stolen moments, and try to see, to feel, to understand what we are doing, who we are, what matters most in our lives?

When we look within ourselves, we may find that what stands out is not what we think is important, or what the world deems is important, or what we want to be important.  Take the time to stop and think.  To listen, in the silence of the moment, for a voice that is always there, guiding our lives.  Each of us, whatever the age, whatever faith we believe in, can take a moment to listen and to see what stands before us.

Broken or whole, we owe it to ourselves to pause for a moment.  To see that colored leaf that glows in the sun.  To find within ourselves the thing that stands out.  To find that even in the silence, we are not alone. That all that we are, all that we can be, is not just about you or me.  It is about us.  The moments of our lives that truly matter are not full of I’s.  It is in the we’s the we are made whole.

Before the Noon Rush

It’s been a while since my last post.  Between work, training, and the busy hum of life in suburbia, I haven’t had much of a chance to post something.  There’s also the problem with having a little bit of writers’ block.  Weekends are filled with picture taking and cleaning up the house, a little bit.  Why do I have all this stuff and what am I going to do with it?  Over the years, you buy a small thing here, a small thing there.  Cabinets, once empty, fill up.  The floor in my study is not quite as open as it once was.  A pile of papers here, a pile of papers there.  No, I am not going to go through the process of holding each time and trying to find out if this thing or that things gives me joy.  Truthfully, there’s just too many things to pick up that if you were to somehow divinate that this or that is giving me joy, I may end up with arms even more tired than they already are.  So I’ll just throw some things out, donate some things, and assume that what’s left is giving me joy.  Heck, how much joy can a guy take in one day?

Anyway, I took the day off to ruminate.  I went for a short walk at the Mosaic District, one of the mixed use neighborhoods that are popping up in Northern Virginia.  I love walking around here.  There’s a movie theater, a couple of shops and eateries to go to, space for people to walk around and just enjoy the day.  This morning, I stopped by the Praline Bakery, one of those nice places to grab a quick bite and just enjoy a few minutes of alone time (before the noon rush).  A crisp apple confection (I forgot what they call it) that’s just sweet enough without being overwhelming, with that slightly tart flavor that makes you savor it even more.  A nice cup of coffee, and no phone calls or web surfing.  Just some downtime.

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A place to relax, to think, to ruminate.  I picked up the fork, took a small slice out of the confection in front of me, and this feeling of joy was amazing.  The joy increased as the desert got ever smaller.  I don’t think this is what Marie Kondo had in mind when she said pick things up and see if it brings you joy, but I’ll take it.  And now that I know that picking up a fork, in a certain place, is sure to bring me joy, I believe a return trip in the very near future is a very real possibility.  Return trips, if I have to be honest.  In some things, a guy can’t have enough joy.

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And what a colorful selection of deserts (macaroons!).  I love the growing diversity in the population.  You used to choose from pistachio, vanilla, orange, chocolate, almond.  Now you can get mango flavored treats.  And passion fruit.  Joy, Joy, Joy!!!!

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And, there’s this beautiful wall mural outside of this little corner of the world.

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And a little dog park/patch right next to it (and I mean little, but it serves its function).  Oh, the artist left his calling card.

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Great comfort food, a nice day, beautiful wall art.  A joyful morning indeed.

When There is Joy

Photography is not merely the process of capturing an image.  It’s not just looking at the world, looking at the things that are beautiful.  It’s not finding cruelty or kindness, nor is it just looking for excitement, nor is it documenting the commonplace and the mundane.  Photography is looking at the world and finding in it something that stirs your soul.  It is not always bright and cheerful.  It is not always gloomy and dark.  It is, if you are honest with yourself, a reflection of who you are at the moment.

And because who you are constantly changes, the images captured is never the same.  One can hope, however, that as in life, we can always find hope, even joy in all that we see.  In the depths of despair there is always the promise of a better tomorrow.  In the heights of happiness there is always a realization that moments like this are treasured, but not what we ultimately strive for.

Finding meaning in life, where you know yourself and understand that imperfection is not a curse but a blessing, when you see a world that is not closed but open to possibilities.  When you look back not to long for what is past, but to learn that failure is not permanent but is always necessary.  To know that success is not a singular achievement but a communal experience.  To know that at the center of it all, is not the selfish tyranny of pride and conceit, but that in spite of one’s frailties, generosity and love prevails.  That in every moment, great and small, the inner light illuminates the soul and that in all that we are, in all that we do, joy gives meaning to our existence.

And so it was yesterday afternoon, on a surprisingly cool day in July, I walked the grounds of Meadowlark Gardens.  Paths walked so many times before.  And yet, each step is always different, and so are the pictures.

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Balance

In the wee hours of the morning, after another restless and near sleepless evening, I started listening to music.  The notes played on and then I suddenly realized that at that moment, I wasn’t really in the room.  My mind had wandered back in time, remembering a time when family members who are but a memory were still breathing the same air that I breathed.  And in that moment, I found myself wondering.  What is really important in my life?  And in nearly the same instant, I thought about the people who are forever part of me.  I didn’t remember the clothes they wore.  Or the places we have been.  I thought about how much I was loved.  And how this feeling that never goes away always brings balance back into my life.

I was taught so many things by a great many people.  The most important lessons were not imparted with words, but through actions, through example.  Kindness is not optional, even when it is difficult to give.  Respect other people, even when you don’t agree with them.  Be generous to others, for what you have, even if earned, is a gift given to you, not to be hoarded, but to be shared.  Speak the truth always, but never harshly.

And then the present, or the near present, came back to me.  Sometimes, just seeing and being with someone is enough.  Your heart always finds a way to tell you what it feels.  And in the music, joyful and hopeful as the dawning of a new day, I remembered the thing that gives life to a life.  Love.  A gift, a treasure.  A memory?  Sometimes.  Transient?  Not when it is true.

How So

Last Saturday morning, I woke up shortly after the sun had awakened and Huntley Meadows, one of the local wildlife refuges, beckoned.  There was only one thing that made me think that maybe, just maybe, I should stay in bed.  The sky was overcast and the weather casters predicted about two inches of rain for the weekend.  I was pretty sure I wanted to just go out, go for a short hike, and take some pictures.  There was, however, something weighing on my mind.  It was grey.  It was dull.  What pictures were there to take in such a day as this?  In short, while I knew what I wanted to do, how will the reality of the on and off drizzle mesh with my idea of taking pictures of birds in spring?  My heart said go ahead.  My head asked why?  How so?

Sometimes the head wins out.  Sometimes the heart flutters too much and like the sweet smell of sampaguitas, the feeling envelops you, and the world feels new.  Is new.  The dawn of a new day.  A little muted, perhaps, but alive with possibilities.

And so it was that three hours was spent walking around in the on and off sprinkles from the sky.  And sometimes, the sun decided to tease a little warmth into the cool May morning.  The heart may be a lonely hunter at times, but then again, it can only be so.  For in the ups and downs and ups in life, we find our way to life lived, a life lived well.

How so?  The answer is simple.  Make it so.  And here are the pictures to prove it.

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Beautiful and Wet

Spring is tulip season in the mid Atlantic region.  With days getting warmer, rainfall is also bountiful.  Life giving water.  It makes the grass green.  The mood a little melancholy.  The ground, saturated by the drops of rain falling from the skies, is a little soft.  Maybe even muddy.   Grey skies indeed.  And in what can only be described as a pleasant contrast, shades of red, pink and yellow adorn countless gardens in all the neighborhoods.  The colors, saturated by the clouds diffusing light as it falls from our star, are vibrant.   Droplets of water cling to every flower.  And through each miniature lens, beauty is magnified.

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Moments

I walk out of my front door to get the phone from my car and I look up
The crescent moon shines brightly in the quickly darkening sky
Twilight receding, stars ascending and in front of me
Stands mighty Orion, with Rigel’s light blazing forth
And to one side sits Canopus, with the brightest star in the sky
Looking down on me as I gaze upward one more time
And see the beauty that only the sisters can bring
The seven forever chased by the hunter
And as the winter stars meet the horizon ever earlier
In a slowly changing dance, a sequence of moments, each a memory
Spring will come soon enough
The past will be past, but like the stars that circle the earth
They remain with us, reminding us
That what we treasure is not lost
For they will always shine brightly in our hearts
As long as love endures

The Return

After years of not paying attention to my record player (and the old LP recordings), a sense of nostalgia filled my life as 2018 was coming to a close.  It was not a very good year for me, but I am not going to say that I had nothing to be thankful for.  There are always so many things to be thankful for in one’s life.  Lives end, but the experiences shared, the memories, the love remains.  It was a time to realize that that old song from “Funny Girl” – “People” still mean the same thing to me now, several decades since I first heard it (and fell in love with the song).  Life has ups and downs, but as long as there are people in your life that give it meaning, life is always worth living.  Sorrow may linger, but joy always remains.

And so it was that I ended up putting a record on that old Denon record player, only to find out the stylus on the cartridge had snapped.  A few days later, Amazon shipped me a new Ortofon cartridge.  And what was dusty and forgotten was alive again.  As the stylus fell on the vinyl, the past and the present became one.  And the sound of music, long unheard, became part of my life again.

A little snippet from Alfred Brendel playing Mozart.

A sampler – Alfred Brendel and the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields, Mozart Piano Concerto No. 15

Another thing.  Somehow, an old CD player that was supposed to have been donated years ago never made it out of the garage.  After cleaning off the dust, it was time to play an old Carly Simon CD.  Some things never get old.

Carly Simon, My Romance – a short sampler

A new year.  Old things are new again.  And new things, well, they’re always there to be discovered.  “People.  People who need people.  Are the luckiest people in the world.”  I am a lucky man.

The Inner Light

My favorite episode of Star Trek is “The Inner Light.”  Star Trek has always been a show about what it means to be human.  Yes, it has a lot of flashing lights, special effects, green aliens, esoteric worlds, starship battles and journeys to countless planets and stars.  And yet for all the glitter, the show, at its best, is a grand exposition of the human condition, the human experience.  In “The Inner Light”, Captain Picard is thrust upon a life totally different from his own.  Instead of commanding a starship, he was a man with a wife he didn’t know, on a planet slowly dying.  He didn’t want to be there, but there was this woman he didn’t know who nevertheless tended to him, nurtured him, loved him.  Slowly, the fantasy became a reality and in a scant twenty minutes, Picard experiences a life he had never known.  A love he had never known.  A wife who adored him, children who loved him, needed him and in the end, taught him that being a parent elicits emotions ranging from worry, consternation, disappointment, pride.  All the by product of the most basic human emotion of all.  The ability to feel and to give love.

It is a masterful story and when I need to find meaning in my own life, I watch this show again and remember that all that glitters is not gold.  Kamin was not rich by any means.  His family was but one of many families in a village being ravaged by drought.  Yet the life he was living seemed so much more complete, so much more fulfilled than the life he lived as the dashing captain of a Federation flagship.  And when the illusion ended, when he realized that what he had thought was his life was actually a mental recreation, he did something extraordinary.  He took a flute, sat by a window, gazed at the stars, and he began to play.

We can go through life and be dazzled by the success that we are taught to go after.  We can go through life looking for the next star, hardly stopping to even look at the world that we are in.  We can go through life and experience ecstasy, the heights of fame, the allure of power, the spoils of wealth and yet feel empty, broken.  When we look outside ourselves for validation, we allow others to judge us from their point of view; to tell us that in order to be happy or successful, we must follow someone else’s dream, live the life that someone else envisions.  Is it such a surprise that a life that always looks outward misses the simple joys that life can bring.  A fluttering butterfly.  A cool breeze on a warm day.  A sprinkle of rain blurring one’s view of the world, for an instant.  So many small moments that can bring meaning to a life.  Do we spend the time looking at the world in its own terms, feeling the infinitely small breezes of fluttering wings, feeling the hair on our forehead dance, just a little.  Do we look inward and in our heart find that inner light, the one true beacon that can bring meaning to one’s existence?

It is like the nondescript houseplant pictured above.  Green leaves on a pot.  These leaves have a secret.  They are the leaves that will bring sustenance to this plant, that will eventually provide the nourishment for flowers to bloom.  These are the leaves of a sampaguita plant.  Jasmine.  Beautiful and sweet.  A flower, that to many, symbolizes purity and humility.  It is, in many ways, ethereal.

So as the year ends, I think of this special Star Trek episode.  And of a beautiful flower.  And look inward and see the beauty that the inner light reveals.  It is within all of us.  And when you find it, share it.  Be kind.  Be gentle.  Be generous.  In the grace that the beatitudes bring, we experience the greatness of all creation.